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Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted by Congress to help enable people with disabilities to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else, whether that be in employment, housing, or other places of public accommodation. One of the primary ways the ADA the works is by requiring “reasonable accommodations” be offered to disabled individuals. At Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC, we often encounter situations involving the question of reasonable accommodations. On October 6, 2015, New York’s highest Federal appellate court, the Second Circuit, decided a case discussing reasonable accommodations for a medical student at medical school.

Maxim Dean was a medical school at the University at Buffalo and “ridden with depression, stress, and anxiety.” As part of the medical program, Dean was required to take and pass a series of examinations. He sat for and initially failed the first “Step 1” exam. The school allowed additional attempts for all students who failed, and, indeed, afforded Dean two more attempts to pass.

After his second failed attempt, Dean experienced enhanced depression symptoms and underwent a psychological evaluation session. After further testing, Dean’s doctor recommended he undergo treatment with medication and take a three month leave of absence from the program. Initially, the school denied the leave, but after Dean wrote the leave of absence committee, it approved a one month leave. The one month, however, barely afforded Dean’s medication time to reach a therapeutic level, so his doctors again requested the school grant Dean additional leave time. The school granted a final leave period, but not the full month.

July 28, 2007 was the final date set by the school by which Dean could take the test. Dean did not sit for the test nor did he request additional leave time. The school administratively dismissed him on August 15, 2007.

Dean sued the school for discrimination based on disability and race, but the court dismissed all the claims. Dean appealed to the Second Circuit arguing that the school should have provided him the accommodation of taking leave long enough to allow his medications to take effect.

The Second Circuit noted that the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act required covered educational institutions to provide reasonable accommodations for students’ disabilities unless it would pose an undue hardship on the school. In this case, the Court concluded that the school did not provide Dean the accommodation he sought. However, the school provided an alternative accommodation. So, the provided accommodation is reasonable only if it is effective.

Here, the Court held that the provided accommodation was not reasonable because (1) the study period it provided to Dean was the same amount of time it had previously provided to him and which was previously insufficient and (2) the school’s treatment of Dean deviated from how it handled other similarly situated students’ situations. Accordingly, the Court could not hold that the school provided a reasonable accommodation.

At Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC, we often encounter questions of reasonable accommodations for individuals’ disabilities in the context of employment, education, and housing. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against or denied an accommodation based on a disability or if you have a question about the Dean case, contact the experienced discrimination attorneys at Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC at 631-352-0050 or www.linycemploymentlaw.com

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